The catalyst for focusing on my song writing process was the online FAWM (February Album Writing Month) event http://www.fawm.org in Feb 2014 (as described in my last blog). What I want to do in this blog is outline how my song writing process works and what the various steps are that I go through to complete a song.

So where does it all begin. For me, a song usually starts from one of 2 places: either I have an idea for a subject that I want to write about (20% of the time), or a riff will show itself through playing around with a guitar (80% of the time).

Idea based:

So if I have an idea for a song around a particular subject I will ruminate on the subject either by doing some research around it or exploring lyrical or melodic ideas. This results in either a set of lyrics or sometimes just a hook or chorus line that can be further developed with the guitar. Once I pick up the guitar the structure usually comes together pretty quickly. As soon as there is a rough idea I get this into my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) REAPER (reaper link). I then continue to work the structure into verse and chorus sections and this may go too-and-fro between lyric and music to get the structure right. When I first started recording my songs I went for full-blown arrangements (so if this was for the band there would be 2 guitar parts, bass guitar and drums). This meant I had a complete song but it was time consuming. What I also discovered was that I tended to focus on a particular arrangement at the detriment to the underlying song, so the songs were often weaker and did not stand up to being acoustic versions. What I do now is usually write with just 1 instrument and voice. This usually means that a solid song comes out in the end, which can then be enhanced into a different arrangement to suit the band if needed.

Riff based:

We have guitars and other instruments all over the house. While I am waiting for the kettle to boil for instance I can pull a guitar off the wall and have a twiddle. This is where most of my songs come from. Something usually develops in just a few minutes (or not at all in which I case I put the guitar back and make my cup of tea!). The riff or chords structure then gets put into the DAW as above and a similar process ensues. In this case, the lyrical content is usually driven by the feel and flow of the chords and the melody that uncovers itself. Through singing a possible melody with random words that pop into my head a theme drops out that can be further worked on.

Throughout the focused writing during FAWM I have discovered that much of what happens does so at a sub-conscious level, spiritual even, in that I often don’t know where the ideas come from or why I moved my hands in a certain way to end up with an unknown (to me) chord. Happy accidents, the trick is to spot them and develop them further.

A little technical blurb

As I have said I use REAPER as my DAW, mainly because it was a fully functioning demo that allowed me to get started and the license is cheap after the trial. I record through a Focusrite 2i2 (https://uk.focusrite.com/usb-audio-interfaces/scarlett-2i2) audio interface into a Macbook pro. We do have Logic (http://www.apple.com/lae/logic-pro/) in the house so I could use that but I don’t want to spend time learning a new program when I could be writing. I use electric and acoustic guitars into the audio interface and the free AmpliTube guitar amp plug-ins (http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/amplitubecs/). For vocals I have a Rode M1 microphone, which I bought because it was an all-round mic but I should probably invest in a better vocal mic. I record in the spare bedroom without any room treatments so there is plenty of scope for improving the quality of my recordings, I would just need to put some effort in!. The only song writing assistance that I get is an online rhyming dictionary tool that often comes in useful for finding that elusive lyric www.rhymezone.com

And that is my set-up for getting a decent demo down for the band to listen to. I still have to produce lyric and chord sheets to get the band started and then the songs take on their own life with the other band members adding their magic.

Next time: How to refresh the muse.